How Perceived Financial Strain Impacts Autism Support Teachers
School-age children with autism receive most of their intervention in schools. In under-resourced, urban school districts, teachers tasked with providing students with evidence-based practices often receive low salaries. These low salaries may lead to turnover (Miller et al. 1999) and financial strain (Prawitz et al. 2006)—when one is unable meet his/her financial responsibilities. Previous research suggests that financial strain increases intentions to quit one’s job (Adams et al. 2016), reduces commitment to employers and increases absenteeism (Kim & Garman, 2003), worsens physical health (O’Neill et al., 2006), and increases depression (Starkey et al. 2013). To date, no research has examined whether financial strain increases teacher turnover or use of evidence-based practices, a finding that would have important policy implications.
To examine whether teachers’ perceived financial strain is associated with turnover, their intentions to implement EBPs for students with autism, and the quality and frequency of EBP implementation.
The sample included 52 kindergarten-through-second-grade autism support teachers employed in one urban school district. All participants were enrolled in a multi-year randomized, controlled trial; data for this study was collected as a part of the larger trial. All teachers received training in five EBPs for children with autism: discrete trial training, pivotal response training, data collection, positive reinforcement, and visual schedules. Teachers completed the InCharge Financial Distress/Well-Being Scale, a 10-item questionnaire designed to measure a person’s perceived financial strain. Items ranged on a scale of 0 = No financial distress to 10 = overwhelming financial distress. An example item is “How often do you worry about being able to meet normal monthly living expenses?” The Intent to Implement measure is a 114-item questionnaire measuring teachers’ intentions to implement EBPs for students with autism. Several scales, ranging from 1 to 7 were used. An example item is “Think about you …running discrete trial training with most students, at least 3 days a week, for the next 3 months. For me to do this would be…” Teachers’ quality and frequency of usage for each EBP was measured through monthly teacher self-report and bimonthly observations. Turnover was defined as teachers leaving their position. The school district provided information about turnover at the start of the following school year.
Data collection is complete and analyses are underway. Linear regression models will be used to estimate the extent to which teachers’ perceived financial strain is associated with their intended and actual use of EBPs. Logistic regression will be used to answer the extent to which teachers’ perceived financial strain is related to their turnover.
The results will lead to a better understanding of how teachers’ perceived financial strain impacts their intentions to implement EBPs, fidelity to the EBPs, and sustainment of EBPs in urban public schools. Given the pressing need for EBPs in school settings, this study will provide insight into barriers affecting EBP implementation in resource-limited schools.